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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 January, 2004, 14:28 GMT
March closes Bombay social forum
A demonstrator from Bangladesh has the words
Trade and aid were at the top of the delegates' agenda
Thousands of activists from around the globe have ended the World Social Forum in India with a seven-kilometre march.

The event is designed as an antidote to the gathering of political and business leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

In a series of meetings and protests, attendees made clear their opposition both to US-led capitalism and to war.

Estimates suggest that as many as 100,000 people have taken part in the six-day event.

Back to Brazil

The 2004 event in Bombay, also known as Mumbai, is the fourth time the annual meeting has been held.

Painting a sign with the word
Bombay... represents a major step towards realising the truly international political process dreamt of by WSF organizers from the very beginning
Atila Roque, ActionAid

Despite being home to half the world's population and many of the world's poor, Asia has historically been less voluble on the subject of globalisation than elsewhere - although India has now taken the lead among developing nations at global trade talks.

Each of the preceding WSF meetings have taken place in the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre.

Next year, organisers say, the WSF will return to Brazil - but they hope to take it to Africa in 2006.

African delegates said that since Africa as a continent was one of the worst affected by globalisation, US-style capitalism and conflict, such a decision was appropriate.

'Criminal debt'

"The Americas have hosted it, Asia has hosted it," said Demba Diop, a Malian and the deputy secretary general of the Congress of the African Trade Union Organisation.

"We think it's our time."

An African WSF - held in a country such as Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia or South Africa - could tackle the "criminal debt" that African countries owe their creditors, he said.

It could also focus on the Aids epidemic, given that two in three of the world's estimated 40 million HIV-positive population live in sub-Saharan Africa.

Issues

Aids and debt are not new to the WSF agenda; indeed, both were among the many subjects debated at hundreds of demonstrations, meetings and seminars.

A man leans against a graffiti covered wall in Bombay

The reluctance of rich countries to open up their markets to developing nations' goods was at the top of the list of subjects, a stance reflected in the Forum's attempt to keep advertising and - as far as possible - products from multinationals away from the main exhibition grounds.

Indian campaigner Vandana Shiva told the Forum that the campaign against globalisation, free trade and big business had only just begun.

"The struggle between people and capital is now an epic struggle between life and death," she told the Reuters news agency.

Opposition to the US-led war and subsequent occupation of Iraq - and war in general - was also a common theme among delegates.

But the meeting's Indian venue gave the subject of caste special significance too.

Almost 140 million Indians are in the lowest caste, the Dalits, who Hindu traditionalists believe should be kept from touching or sharing utensils with their higher-caste neighbours.

Laws introduced in 1948 forbid discrimination, but few deny it persists.




SEE ALSO:
World Social Forum diary
16 Jan 04  |  Business
Activists gather for global forum
18 Jan 04  |  South Asia


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